about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Two-Face Tuesday: Dick vs Harvey, Round 1!

So a month ago, I started to explore to themes of Harvey being the Trial by Fire for the Robins, starting with Jason and then Tim. Now, of course, there is no Robin who has a more bitterly personal connection with Harvey than the first, Dick Grayson. It seems, in fact, that Two-Face is now officially Dick's arch-nemesis.

But why? How did this come about? What is it about Harvey, one of Batman's very worst enemies (second only to the Joker, IMO), that makes him ideally suited to be Dick's # 1?

I was going to post scans from "Prodigal" (the first "Dick as Batman" story from the 90's), but before I do that, I think it'd be best if we actually went back a bit further. Starting with the prelude to "Prodigal"--ROBIN #0 from 1994--and including the expansion/revisions of that story in the more-popularly-read ROBIN: YEAR ONE, both of which are helmed by Chuck Dixon, whom I believe we can therefore credit for inventing this particular archenemy dynamic.

Now, I consider Dixon to be one of the finest Batman writers, the only one of the 90's trio of Dixon, Moench, and Grant to be worth a damn (and the three of them working on "Prodigal" next week will be further proof of why I feel that way). And yet, he also writes what I consider to be one of the worst depictions of Two-Face ever put to print.

This might be due to the fact that Dixon, as far as I know, has never written a villain sympathetically. They're all either criminal masterminds (Blockbuster, Two-Face) or shifty losers (the Riddler Year One annual, Cluemaster. Best as I can tell, Dixon writes expressly for the heroes, which he does wonderfully. Problem is, that means the villains, even antivillains like Harvey and Mr. Freeze, suffer as a result.

Not that there aren't strengths to this depiction of Two-Face...

Let's start back in 1994, during the ZERO HOUR crossover. In ROBIN # 0, Harvey Dent (but don't call him that) explains the bane of his existence to the shrinks at Arkham. They assume it's Batman he hates worst of all, but no, Two-Face refers to someone else in particular...

And here's the first mention of several regarding Dixon's primary depiction of Two-Face as believing that Harvey Dent is killed and that now he has to avenge his own murder. Now that I actually write it that way, it sounds kinda interesting, right?

Except here's the thing: that means there is no good side to this Two-Face. There's just evil and madness. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Harvey's side of the story overlaps with Disco!wing reluctantly recounting the same events to Tim, when Harvey had both Batman and his successor Meany in the gallows, forcing an inexperienced Robin to choose which one to save. Can you already guess why I might have a huge frickin' problem with this take on Two-Face?

The coin comes up good side, which means that Meany is the one who gets hanged, but Dick has a plan...

Now, I imagine most of you know these events from ROBIN: YEAR ONE and haven't read this nor "Prodigal." Maybe I'm wrong and my old-fogie-dom is showing. If you've only read that one, you might have noticed that there are a couple small differences in the two versions. Dixon (along with Scott Beatty) really got a chance to expand not just Dick's story surrounding these events, but also his interpretation of Harvey's motivations.

Robin feels betrayed, which will lead to him acting like a dope and resulting in them both getting caught by Two-Face.

Ahh, so they're going with the original Golden Age origin, that the coin came from Moroni and was the key piece of evidence in the trial. Now look, I'm all for Old School comics, but this means that this is a Two-Face that completely ignores the wonderful origin with his abusive father and "the game."

That's Moroni? First off, man, that character has had like five different fates. In Pre-Crisis, he was still alive long after Harvey became Two-Face. In "Eye of the Beholder," he was shot by bailiffs in court. In that BATMAN CHRONICLES team-up story with Harvey and Jim Gordon, he was alive and arrested again after escaping from jail. In THE LONG HALLOWEEN, he was shot in the face by Alberto Falcone. In TWO-FACE YEAR ONE, he was shot by Falcone with Harvey actually beside him.

Heck, they can't even decide whether to spell his name Moroni (the original, and name of the actual angel of the Book of Mormon) or Maroni (the more common, as used in "Eye of the Beholder," and thus subsequently THE LONG HALLOWEEN and THE DARK KNIGHT).

Also, that corpse doesn't look anything like the Brando-esque in the flashback. He doesn't even have the snazzy mustache anymore! Are we to believe that Harvey killed Moroni himself and just left him to rot? It's always been a minor annoyance to me in this story, but hardly my biggest problem.

Fast-forward to the big moment, after Two-Face captures Batman and Robin...

I include this page because of that line: "I was the best choice." Even though it's not Dixon's intent, I personally would love to read that moment as Dick's "fuck you" to Harvey, one of Batman's original allies in the war on crime.

There's something powerful about Bruce's first big failure coming back to specifically haunt his sidekicks, much in the same way that Judd Winick used Jason Todd as the Red Hood (actually, much of the way Red Hood was used made me wish they'd used Harvey in that role instead).

Skipping further ahead, we've already seen the part where Robin makes his no-choice. In this version, he calls for the Judge not to hang if the clean side comes up. It does, and Dick breathes a sigh of relief.

And here we find the defining trait of Dixon's Two-Face: he cheats. Or more precisely, he makes the rules of his game and manipulates it to his own advantage, which may not be cheating, but is distinctly, patently unfair.

If this is the same Harvey Dent as seen in "Eye of the Beholder," then that would mean that this is proof that Harvey has become his father. I know some would see this as an inevitable, fitting, perhaps even poignant interpretation of the character.

Me, I'd find it lazily cynical, but there's no point arguing a hypothetical like that (unless you really want me to ;p ). So let's put that aside and carry on with the nasty business at hand...

Ugh. That might be the single ugliest, most irredeemably evil thing Harvey's ever done. Granted, it's not like Robin is like just any defenseless kid, but still, this scene crossed a line in more than one way. Including for Two-Face himself.

N'aw, Bruce. And in that moving moment, here we see Dixon really cares about. And of course, that's how it should be, since this is Dick's story.

But okay. Let's accept that this Harvey Dent is the classic version who went totally mad after getting acid in his face and turning into a twisted insane monster version of himself. It's a not-uncommon take on the character, particularly at the time. That was pretty expressly Doug Moench's (ugh) take throughout the 90's, and was also the Two-Face of BATMAN FOREVER. I should hope that nothing more would need to be said right there.


Now, in the past years, increased emphasis has been put on Harvey's good side in stories like HUSH, FACE THE FACE, and NIGHTWING: THE GREAT LEAP, not to mention the influence THE DARK KNIGHT will have on stories to come.

On the other hand, we have the MANHUNTER back-up story in STREETS OF GOTHAM. And that Harvey is very clearly this Harvey, the Chuck Dixon Two-Face cranked up to 11. Marc Andreyoko has clearly stated through Kate that Harvey Dent is dead, and that Two-Face is just a twisted mockery of the man, pure, sneering evil through and through.

Well, that, plus the occasional dreamy look he gives in Kate's direction:

(credit to suzene for that)

This take on the character is BATMAN FOREVER's Two-Face through a DARK KNIGHT filter, a villain who exists purely for Kate to thoroughly trounce, just as this Two-Face exists purely for Dick Grayson to defeat. There's absolutely nothing more to the character.

Now, I'll admit, this take has its strengths. Freed of all angst and tragic struggling between his warring sides, this Two-Face is free to be a magnificent monster capable of evil badassery like this:

Essentially, this Two-Face is Clarance Boddiker from ROBOCOP. And god damn if I don't love me some Boddiker. Now I'm imaging him throwing Dick off the back of a truck, asking, "Can you fly, Robby?"

And yet, for all this awesomeness, I hate hate hate this take on Two-Face. Because what you get here is a great villain, yes, but it's at the expense of an amazing character.

The best writers understand that what makes Two-Face such an enduring character isn't that he's a scary insane monster who'll rig games to his own advantage. No, it's that he's a genuinely good man who struggles with that monster inside him, existing simultaneously. Mr. Hyde without Dr. Jekyll is just another murdering sociopath (the exception being the Hyde of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, naturally), and a Two-Face without Harvey Dent robs the character of all his complex and moving power.

I think everything that's wrong with this version can be summed up in this scene:

Greg Rucka wrote it best in his introduction to GOTHAM CENTRAL: HALF A LIFE, wherein he explained that (and I'm paraphrasing here, as I don't have my copy on hand) Harvey Dent flips a coin to decide between a moral and an immoral action, not two equally evil options. Andrew Helfer understood this in "Eye of the Beholder," explaining Harvey's two sides become deadlocked, and the coin is the tie-breaker.

But here, this character is entirely Harvey's bad side, which makes you wonder why he bothers flipping the coin at all. For this Two-Face, he uses the coin purely to justify his evil actions, making him no more complex or interesting than any fanatic who uses religion to justify theirs. Of course, some people prefer that version of the character, so I suppose it's a matter of taste.

Me, I'd rather have a complex and sympathetic antagonist who speaks toward the human condition instead of a remorseless Joker-lite monster who exists purely to have his ass kicked most righteously.

Let's wrap up this post where we started, back in the present-day continuity of 1994, where--years after the events of ROBIN: YEAR ONE, the three biggest players in the upcoming story event share their final thoughts on that fateful first encounter:

A no-win situation. Which is exactly what's wrong with Dixon's Two-Face.

And thus the stage is set for the imminent rematch between Dick (who will be assuming the mantle of Batman for the first time) and Two-Face in "Prodigal." Hopefully next week, after over a month of talkin' about it, I'll finally get to those scans as well.
Tags: chuck dixon, dick grayson, reading list: harvey and the robins, robin(s)

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